A Wrinkle in Time

Directed by Ava DuVernay Publishing House: Disney Released: 03.09.18 Review by | March 8, 2018 at 6:30 PM
by Day Al-Mohamed

Basically: Two kids, with the help of three mystical guides (and a friend from school), travel through time and space on a cosmic adventure to rescue their scientist father from an evil entity that is infecting our world.

A Wrinkle in Time is a a mainstay for a generation of readers. A science fiction novel originally written in 1962, the science and the sentiment is still fresh today. In the book and 2018 adaptation, Meg Murray (Storm Reid) has been devastated by the disappearance of her scientist father (Chris Pine) and turns from gifted student to frustrated troublemaker.

The adventure begins with the appearance of three mystical beings: Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), who have travelled across the universe through space and time to recruit warriors to fight against a darkness.

Photo Credit: Atsushi Nishijima - © 2017 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Meg, her younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and classmate Calvin (Levi Miller), tesser—literally wrinkle time—to another world to begin the search for Mr. Murry. The first planet they visit is beautiful and alien, then they continue on where a seer, The Happy Medium (Zach Galafinakis) helps Meg learn that the darkness, emanating from the evil planet Camazotz, is holding her father prisoner. The children must face true evil, both externally and internally, to win back their father and save their world because “the only thing faster than light is the darkness.” But what can defeat the dark?

Director Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time holds true to some of the original moments of the book. The novel begins, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and that is exactly the scene we open up with. However, I also wish DuVernay had deviated a little more from the details of the book and focused on a single theme.

The book is science fiction and has one of the best introductions to quantum physics you will find anywhere. However, when I took a quick trip down memory lane it also pulls from folklore and religion the chosen one—as well as anti-communist/anti-conformity sentiment (which was likely very prevalent during the time of the book’s creation). If you add in themes of family, individuality, and the platitude most-often connected with the film, “be a warrior,” then you begin to see the challenge facing Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell as screenwriters; the script has just too much going on.

Photo Credit: Atsushi Nishijima - © 2017 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Story aside, the acting was solid. In an adventure story helmed by children out to save their father (and the world), Storm Reid is a great Meg—plucky with determination and grit. Deric McCabe’s Charles Wallace gives us some of the most heartfelt scenes in the film. Particularly the ones focused on just him and his sister.

Chris Pine’s performance as a loving father is heartfelt though he is not in the film for long. Neither is Gugu Mbatha-Raw, her Dr. Murry is only a few scenes as Meg and Charles Wallace’s mother, however I loved her portrayal. She made every minute she was on screen count. Where I mostly felt frustrated at the lack of emotional depth in the film, these actors were able to assuage that.

And of course, one cannot talk about A Wrinkle in Time without addressing the children’s mystical guides. Reese Witherspoon made the movie for me. Her Mrs. Whatsit is both quirky and affectionate, but also petulant and a little bit rude.  Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who was fun and entertaining, although I do think her character got short shrift. And finally, we have Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Which. I struggled with Oprah in this role. Most of the time, I enjoy her acting. This time, particularly early in the film, it felt stilted and overdone. Thankfully that feeling lessens as we continue. But the magical je ne sais quoi that I was looking for never quite materialized.

© 2017 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The visual imagery is resplendent. A Wrinkle in Time builds us a world of wonder we can’t help but wish to be a part ofthe planet Uriel is bright and vibrant and unfortunately vacuous. Camazotz, the world that has “given in” to evil, is equally vibrant, yet with an undercurrent that “something is not right.” While the film is incontrovertibly beautiful, it seemed to not only struggle with story, but also with emotional resonance. We’re supposed to relate to Meg and her desperate desire to find her father but we’re told what we’re supposed to feel. The attempts at emotional manipulation continue throughout the film and undercut what could be powerful moments.

One of those is the epiphanic moment where Meg (and the audience) can see how evil has invaded earth. The montage of scenes highlighting the hidden aspects of many secondary characters in the film is wonderful and very much in keeping with the director’s style. We see behaviors judged as cruel to be just a symptom of the evil digging away at each individuals’ insecurities and faults. This is where DuVernay’s directing shines. The imagery tells the whole story. I think I heard the entire audience inhale as they “got it.” The idea of faults comes back around and is well connected to the climax of the story. I just wish this were the selected theme and it was consistent throughout.

© 2017 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In the end: I think many folks will enjoy the ride that is A Wrinkle in Time but will walk out feeling perhaps that something was missing. We want a cosmic battle between good and evil, an adventure to alien worlds, and the emotional rush/resonance of “That’s me!”. While the film gives us two out of the three, I would argue that the lack of emotional resonance (partly because of the muddled storylines and themes), prevents this movie from being more than just a fun afternoon out with the kids, rather than the uplifting and inspiring piece of science fiction that it could be.

P.S. One of the key components of the original A Wrinkle in Time novel is the idea of a tesseract and folding time and space. You’ll see the scene in the trailer. This simple concept of quantum physics is explained through the idea of an ant crossing a folded piece of string. It amazed me as a child. While the film does explain the “folding,” I feel a little cheated in that the scene is not in the film and what is in the final film’s cut simplified to the point of pablum.

From A Wrinkle in Time, the novel by Madeleine L’Engle